Monday, December 26, 2011

Going Public or Sitting in the Opium Den?

The challenge many graduates of anthropology programs face, whether choosing an academic or non-academic career, is publication: The how, why, and wherefores of the process.

I find it interesting that both the AAA and SfAA make publication an ethical principle that they "impose" upon anthropologists. Yet, they set no specific standards for such publication beyond their own monopolistic journals. This has lead to a double standard in what is "anthropological" literature. Meanwhile, the organizations and their academic members attack you (if your lucky,but more often ignore you)for works prepared for a wider, more public, audience. They claim such works are unprofessional,unworthy of professional recognition, since they have not stood the test of an IRB or peer review process.

Recently, Dona Barry, a graduate student and a member of the American Anthropological Association LinkedIn site commented,
I have often wondered as a graduate student when I am done with college, what I would do or be legally obligated to do ethically (outside the AAA) where institutionally I am required to obtain IRB approvals.

Margaret Mead faced the same problem when she "went public." She and Rhoda Metraux wrote a column for Redbook magazine commenting of issues of the day from an anthropological perspective but in plain language. These were later collected and appear in their 1970 book, A Way of Seeing. These writings are not generally considered as part of their anthropological legacy. Yet, as Dr. Jeremy Sabloff discussed in his 2010 AAA Distinguished Lecture: "The Circulation of Ideas: Anthropology and Public Outreach", noted, Anthropology needs another Margaret Mead.

Academically inclined anthropologists love and hunger for the comfort of the academic press, or "the Opium Den of theoretical dreams and professional allusion." It seems to me that if we are to bringing about a change in this double standard toward publication, those of us who are dedicated to both the discipline of anthropology and to the application of the anthropological perspective to "real" public issues, can not rely on the opium den to change. We must take the lead.

To start, we must stop seeking the approval of the academic parent. They are like parents who punish the child by disowning them because they do not want to go, or can not fit, into the family business. These parents are trapped in a tradition and allusion of isolation of their own creation. They do not realize that there is a bigger world out here. It is a world with existential problems that cry out for solutions that anthropology could offer. It is up to us, the practitioners to make these solutions known to the world. We can do that by establishing our own publication standards directed toward solutions and take responsibility for them.

We, in the non-academic domain, need to take responsibility for our own destiny. And in the process, drag the academy out of its opium den and into the fresh air of the real world. Just as the second generation must bring the family business into today's market, we need to reach across generations and take the best of the past, combine it with the most exciting practical challenges of the present and create a new relevant anthropology.

This is critical for all of us, if we are to have a future. If the Scott Walkers of the world have their way, they would lock the doors to the metaphorical opium dens known as anthropology departments to "save tax payer" money for more practical purposes. Our academic colleagues may whine about the unfairness of it all when they find they have nowhere else to go to enjoy their theoretical dreams. But they will have no one to blame but themselves.

It will fall upon us, the practitioners, to justify the rationale for our anthropological training. Individually, by managing our own personal careers, we can profit from our training. We can do this by going public with our best anthropological insights and solutions to real problems wrapped in the language and media that the public understands. But institutionally, our own success will not necessarily benefit the profession if our academic institutions are not willing to recognize, accept and support our efforts.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Anthropology & Astronomy or, What do you do when there is only one universe?

For years when I have been asked " And , What do you do (for a living)?" I tell them I am a self employed anthropologist. To which I generally get an expression something like this.

Then I'm asked, "So what? You buy and sell bones?" To which I'll respond that bones and for that matter stones are part of archaeology which is one branch of anthropology. Then I say, "Anthropology is about the study of humanity and how it came to be the dominate species and life form on this planet." For you see, from my point of view, Anthropology is to the social sciences as Astronomy is to the physical science.

I started my college career with plans to be an astronomer and an astronaut (right after Sputnik). A run in with some higher level math pushed me into the social sciences as a major. Anthropology had just been introduced as a major (formally a minor in a soc/anthro department)at Brown. What struck me at the time and what has stayed with me is the similarity between the two fields.

Both are descriptive sciences, not experimental. Both are holistic (you can't get much bigger than the universe and all of the time the universe has existed. In anthropology we are interested in the whole of the history and development of the human species, its distribution, its origin, and its complexities. Both focus on a single entity: the universe as we know vs the planet as we know it. Neither, at the moment has anything to really compare it against.

Astronomy has an evolutionary perspective in its theoretical sister, Cosmology, Cosmology integrates the observations of the observational astronomer with the conclusions and observations of the other physical sciences (chemistry, physics). It looks to these science for clues to explain the observation and it provides a testing ground for their questions.

Anthropology performs a similar role for the human sciences (biology, psychology, and the sociological sciences). We have amassed the greatest collection of observations of human experience in our ethnographies, ethnohistories, and archaeological observations. We have the evolutionary perspective that enables us to expand the boundaries of inquiry back in time as we discover new links and connection between our species and life itself.

We draw upon the discoveries of other social, psychological and life sciences to help explain our observations and these sciences become integrated in a unique way the same as the physical sciences are integrated into Astronomy.

We both have a central concept which helps to explain the order and dynamics of the structures we observe.

For Astronomy it is Gravity.

For Anthropology it is Culture

Finally, for Astronomy the ultimate question is captured in the concept of the BIG BANG and the emergence of the universe. For Anthropology, our Big Bang is the concept of Life and the emergence of Homo sapien.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ethnography vs Ethnology

Ethnographic observation is a skill set that requires introspection, a keen sensitivity to detail and nuance, empathy and clarity in the linguistic subtleties of the group under study/observation. Some of these skills can be taught in the classroom, others come only after participating in a cross cultural environment.

Some would say, "No one can better describe a youth gang than a gang member or a tribe than a tribal member ..." I would counter that the gang or tribal member can do so only as an informant at a particular time and in a particular sociological place within the gang and the gang's environment. It is the ethnographer who gives cultural and sociological context and meaning to what the gang member experiences.

When the native becomes the ethnographer he/she must be able to step back from his/her own culture and look upon it as an object first and subject second. That is,they must, as ethnographers, learn to become the "Other" critically observing and recording the "What" and the "How" of the events being studied. The gang member must step out of his member role and must break with the gang psychology if he is to become the ethnographer.

As the "ethnologist," a different skill set is required, that of critical thinking and analysis based on a core set of techniques of cultural classification, functional analysis of organizational roles, status, and structures, and a systems analysis approach to the networks of shared behaviors and symbols. All of this is done from a cross-cultural comparative perspective. The ethnologist role calls for a scientific objectivity which runs counter to the empathy called for as the ethnographer. It is an objectivity that comes from the experience of dealing with many cultures, or many cases of a specific cultural problem, observed and analyzed in many different cultural contexts.

Anthropology as a discipline, verses anthropology as a profession, rests on the principles of the comparative method, participant/observation (ethnography), physical context (archaeology), and historical (ethno-history) context. Anthropology as a discipline draws on the scientific and scholarly methodologies that best address it problems and is not constrained by any particular theory, as these change with our increased knowledge and professional fads and fashions. Anthropology is more natural history than laboratory/experimental science. It is a descriptive science, not a predictive one.

Anthropology, as a profession, is a combination of science and the humanities because of this duality between the field worker (ethnographer) and library worker (ethnologist) roles. Anthropologists focus their present research problem on identifying how a product (trait/behavior) of the past cultural success is acted out in the present to produce reliable future consequences. As a profession, anthropology is academic when its problem choices are self directed and it is applied when the problem choices are driven by the public concern and/or need.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

“where is the theory in applied anthropology?”

The question, “where is the theory in applied anthropology?” is an old one. It is one I have dealt with for the past 40 years and this is what I have learned.

“Why is academic anthropological theory and sometimes training of so little use to researchers using ethnography as a research technique?”

The simple answer is that it not the job of academic anthropologist to do so. Academic anthropology is based on the university’s paradigm of professionalism. This paradigm (using Kuhn’s definition) is part of the larger institutional culture of free and open dialogue and sharing of information directed toward finding “Truth.” The research subsystems of scholarship and science promotes the search for truth by limiting the questions to be addressed to those arising from the dominate paradigm of the discipline at the time — regardless of the policy questions facing society or its members.

The applied anthropologist is a technician in the real world outside of the academic department. He/she is hired to provide answers (not questions) for a client seeking to make a “practical” decision related to the client’s self interest.

The applied anthropologist is asked to play the role of expert, not seeker, for applying ethnographic knowledge. The client expects the “bullet points” in the executive summary so that they can judge the value of the information and apply it to their problem. Even if you write a detailed report, the client will not read it. The detail only serves to justify a decision based on your conclusion after the fact, especially in the event that the decision is questioned.

As an applied anthropologist you must understand your client and the purpose they have in mind when they hire you.

I am also asked, “How can academics create theory that speaks to applied fields and industry?”

This is the wrong question. The theory already exists in the broad sweep of behavioral and social science.

The question is “How do you package the theory in an user friendly mode that will be meaningful to the client?”

Academics write for academics. Applied anthropologist are culture brokers who bridge the academic and real world cultures of their particular “people.” They write for non academic.

The theory that academic anthropologist should apply to communicating to the applied fields and industry are the basic ethnographic principles of “participant-observation,” and learning the native language and rituals.

What do applied anthropologists need, not what do we want them to know?

If the applied anthropologist’s client wanted to be an anthropologist, she/he would study anthropology and not do what they are doing. But they don’t, and you can’t blame them for that short coming. Otherwise, there is no need for the applied anthropologist as a profession if every client can do it themselves.

I use the analogy to the legal profession. There are law school professors who research and write about jurisprudence, and then there are attorneys who practice their craft in the real world. Here they apply their legal training to help clients avoid problems; or they are trial lawyers who help their clients defend/advocate their interests. Applied anthropology lives in this real world. The applied anthropologist needs the added communication skill set to survive and prosper here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Salvage Ethnography never ends

One of the chief motivators for the development of ethnography, in the American experience, has been the desire to record the histories of non-literate societies before those societies and their cultures became extinct. In the 19th century, this concern was due to the incursions of western civilization and the affects of acculturation on these societies. Today, such a noble enterprise is seen as passe, especially in the light of globalization. Besides, except for New Guinea and the Amazon Basin, where are we going to find a "primitive” tribe to study?

But are we missing the point of our scientific purpose?

I live in Rhode Island, the home of industrialization in the United States where, in the 19th century, the power of the Blackstone river

provided the energy to build fortunes, and transform an agriculturally based local economy into a national and international powerhouse of manufacturing. And with this this development came its concomitant impact on the socio-economic-cultural life in the northeast United States.

The first influx of labor to staff the textile mills came from the farms changing the social structure of the country side. Later they came from French Canada, England, and Ireland. Craftsmen from Italy, and southern Europe came to man the emerging jewelery factories and related industrial complex. Germans and eastern Europeans immigrated drawn by the jobs in the machine tool industry. Each has left its mark on the landscape, yet their stories go largely untold.

Today I am surrounded by the artifacts and architectural remains of that era. In my life time, I have witnessed the decline of such great industrial giants as Brown & Shape Manufacturing, Nicolson File, Gorham Silver as well as the many smaller firms that fed, and fed off these companies and industries. Today many of these businesses no longer exist as Rhode Island's economy, like many other states, has been transformed into a largely service economy as manufacturing moved south and then off shore.

Much of this transformation has taken place over the past 40 years. Today there are many older workers and retirees who participated in that manufacturing culture. But like the survivors and veterans of WWII, these workers are dying off. And with them an insight into this important period in American culture history is being lost. Except for a few business historians, no one to my knowledge, especially ethnographers, is systematically engaged in salvaging this great period in American cultural evolution.

In my applied ethnography career as a consultant and business coach I have often found myself engaged in a process of salvage ethnography. Much of the history of small firms, and especially family owned firms, is not documented. I found that I had to first document the business traditions in order to get a handle on the client's socio-cultural dynamic before we can address the client's immediate concern.

As any good consultant knows, the client's presenting problem is rarely their real problem. Instead, it is just the final step in a process that has been going for some time. Getting a handle on the real problem is a process of uncovering the past and how it has created their present.

Over the past twenty some odd years as part of my consulting assignment, I have collected data from my business firm and non-profit clients. In many cases, I have written up a mini-ethnography or ethno-history for them as part of the final report. Many of these studies document the changing socio-cultural environment to which they have had to adapt to over their life time.

As I am approaching the end of my career, I wonder what will happen to these materials and the living and extinct institutions they represent. I have not seen any anthropological interest in these dying institutions nor their cultures. Neither have I found an appropriate outlet for publishing, disseminating, or archiving this type of material.

In our rapidly changing global economy with its impact on business firms, local communities, and industries, I feel that it is imperative for anthropologist to recognize the importance of conducting salvage ethnographic research. In order to document this phase of our culture history before its become lost to some future archaeologist's trowel, we need to collect the undocumented oral histories of these dying institutions before it is lost forever.

My question is: Has any anthropologist/ethnographer looked into this fruitful area of research? Are there others out there who feel the same about salvaging these dying institutions?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Family Business: A natural subject for the business anthopologist

"Generation to Generation: Life Cycles of the Family Business" is, in my opinion, a major contribution to the study and understanding of the complex nature of this most basic of human occupations - the family business.

As a business anthropologist, I found the life-cycle model applied to the study of the family business eye opening from both an academic and practical perspective.

There is a saying among family business owners and consultants that expresses the folk wisdom of about the family business as an institution and enterprise. It goes something like this , "The first generation creates, the second builds, and the third consumes the family business."

A business is an institution and organization created to perform the function of making money, i.e. producing an income, for the owner(s) by producing a good or service to meet a public need. The business can be as simple as the one person/owner/operator start-up shoe shine stand at the airport to the $7.5 billion a year 5th generation conglomerate, S.C. Johnson & Sons.

Although each is uniquely different, yet each will face, now face or has faced, the same challenges and crisis to its survival outlined in this model.

Gersick, Davis, Hampton and Lansberg develop a life cycle model for the family business that explains in clear, objective and sound social science terms why there is so much truth to this folk wisdom. The authors define the three key domains in which the family business exists and in which it must survive. Each of these domains has its own dynamic and its own life cycle. Each responds to different and sometimes conflicting demands from its environment.

These domains are the business enterprise, the ownership, and the family. In order to understand and effectively manage a family business, the founder and his/her successors must understand how these three domains are operating at any particular time to create opportunities and threats for the business.

The life cycle model draws upon the principles of business ownership models as established in corporate law, the dynamic theory of organizational life cycles and management structures, and the theories of human and family development found in psychology, sociology and anthropology. This comprehensive, integrated model focuses on the business enterprise as a institution and is explained using examples from real family businesses and corporations. It addresses the basic survival problem all family businesses face -- succession. But more than that the authors clearly outline the issues and alternatives at each phase of the life-cycle for the enterprise and the key actors in the family and the enterprise.

As a consultant/business coach to family businesses, I find the insights here validating of the observations I have made and experienced in my practice with clients. I also find it reassuring to see how the holistic approach, which takes all three domains into account, can produce an outcome that will satisfy the personal and business objectives of all the interests involved -- the business, the owners and the family.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who owns, operates, is part of, or interested in family business. "

Monday, November 7, 2011

What does it mean to be a career anthropologist?

Anthropology is a formal discipline that seems to affect some by awakening a spiritual sensitivity. Whether secular scientists or humanists, the anthropological ethic transcends the skepticism of agnostic secularism, by offering a alternative way to understand and accept the human condition.

To accept the anthropological ethic doesn't require the individual to be exposed to a professionally trained academic, or applied anthropologist. One can come to the discipline through introspection and informal contact with the anthropological legacy.

For these individuals, converted by the unique perspective that anthropology gives them to the human condition, it comes from a melding of humanistic science with scientific humanism. This melding transcends the tribally bound tradition of their sectarian belief systems. This perspective forms the foundation for the "career" anthropologist - the individual who lives his/her life based upon the anthropological ethic.

Not all anthropologists share this view. Some feel that only the anointed, PhD academic researcher qualify for sainthood. Others would extend the inner circle to those who teach and hold the precious PhD degree. Still others, more liberal in their theology, would extend membership to those who apply their formal anthropological training in the real world and are paid to do so -- i.e. professionals. These "conservatives" forget, if they ever knew, that at one time, none of these priestly professional classes existed in American before 1879.

The early western "anthropologists" came to their conversion through an interest, curiosity and secular acceptance of the principle of human universality often found in their own sectarian religious beliefs, but more often ignored in practice by their coreligionists. It was a conversion that came when the formal traditional ethic failed to explain to reality of life as experienced through day to day living. It cames from accepting the relativity of life, as explained by cultural differences, as against the absolute certainty imposed by religious and traditionalist formalities. For these emergent "anthropologists," this new ethic was based on the avocational pursuit of personal curiosities, interests and enlightenment rather than any vocational or professional desire for personal financial enrichment.

Today, we have a cast and class structure within anthropology. It is a system which draws a line between the academic caste and other professionals, on the one hand, and between the vocational or "professional" (class) and the avocational anthropologists, on the other.

In my mind, these are false distinctions which, unfortunately, have real negative consequences for individuals and the discipline. The true distinction between anthropologists and the general population should be based on the matter of commitment to the anthropological ethic. Such a commitment leads to a CAREER ANTHROPOLOGY. A career anthropologist is one who lives a life based on the core values of anthropology regardless of the financial rewards or costs of such a commitment.

What is this core ethic?

As I look back on the events of my life since I first encountered "anthropology" in the early 1960s; and I consider the path that I have wandered since then, I find a singular consistency. That consistency is found in the original anthropological perspective which I have come to call the Boasian Principles. These are the principles that lead to a "Career anthropological" ethic.

As an ethic for anthropology, Boas and his students established a set of 11 informal rules for anthropology. As the founder, and “god-head” of American anthropology, Franz Boas' principles became the normative ethic for future generations of American anthropologists. The 11 Rules of an Boasian Anthropological ethic form a American anthropological tradition and ethic.

These rules are:
1. a combination of humanistic and scientific values;
2. a focus on the concept of culture;
3. an emphasis on non-literate, small scale sociocultural systems as the subject of study;
4. a holistic perspective in the study of sociocultural phenomena;
5. a reliance on the comparative method of analysis;
6. a tradition of employment in a research setting associated with a museum or university;
7. an orientation toward historical particularism, i.e. understanding the role and function of sociocultural phenomena in context;
8. a tradition of participant-observation in a personal field work experience;
9. the ideal of the scientific role as a standard for judging professional status;
10. an objective and relativistic moral and ethical position;
11. a four field approach in the basic training of recruits to the profession and in the organization of the profession. (Bainton 1979: 127 - 128)

Even in our deeply segmented 21st century discipline, I find it amazing how well these rules have held up. Despite the monumental changes that have taken place in the social sciences and in the world at large, I find that most of these principles as valid today as they were when first established. However, I question the sixth principle which imposes a limitations on employment to a university or museum setting. This is like condemning all Christians or Buddhists to a lifetime in the monastery.

The strength and longevity of any belief system, philosophical or religious, rests in its practical application by providing a method for answering the questions of daily life for the individual and the community of believers.

With the exception of the sixth principle, I find this in the Boasian ethic. I have learned that we do not need to pursue our careers in the museum and/or the university even as these are still the ideal our teachers and mentors hold up to the aspiring student. But we can perform the functions that these metaphors represent by choosing to become Career Anthropologist and applying the Boasian ethic.

What has been your experience?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Suppose They Began the Twenty-First Century and Forgot to Invite Anthropology

 In 1973,  Thomas Weaver of the University of Arizona organized a symposium  in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings to be held in San Francisco in February 1974.  The theme/ title, "Anthropology in the 1990's: Conditions, Needs, and Prospects." with the subtitle "Suppose They Began the Twenty-First Century and Forgot to Invite Anthropology!!!" One of the people Weaver called upon was Dr. Edward H. Spicer, a fellow colleague from the University of Arizona and the President of American Anthropological Association, for his observations and thought about the future for cultural anthropology.

As reported by his widow in 1994, (Spicer, Rosamond 1994 Human Organization, Vol. 53. No. 4, pp. 388 - 395), Spicer took the assignment with the same degree of seriousness and dedication that he had displayed through out his professional career. He saw it as an opportunity to share his thoughts and impressions of the profession and in particular, to speculate on where he saw the profession going. On February 28, 1974, he presented his paper entitled, "Anthropology in the society of the 1990s".

Edward H. Spicer was a both a humanist and scientist whose work spans the traditional four field of anthropology, and who played a significant role in the formation and development of the fifth field, Applied Anthropology. Spicer taught those of us fortunate to be his student to appreciate and understand the connection between a people’s past, their present, and how these shaped their future. In his paper on that February day in 1974, he outlined 5 trends in the social and cultural environment that he felt would shape the next 20 years for professional anthropology.

Twenty years later, in 1994, the paper was republished in Human Organization with a forward by his widow, Rosamond Spicer, under the title, "Reassessing Edward Spicer's Views on Anthropology in the Society of the 1990s: How and Why This Paper by Edward H. Spicer Was Written"  From her forward, we can gain an insight into Ned's thinking and approach to the future.

In 1974, Spicer envision five major societal trends that would impact the development of the profession leading toward the 1990s were the following:

(1) increasing intercommunication among the peoples of the world;

(2) increasing occupational specialization with accompanying organic differentiation within societies;

(3) increasing failure of technological solutions for the resolution of human problems in acceptable ways;

(4) increasing assertion and self-expression of ethnic groups within nation-states; and

(5) increasing reaction against centralization in political and administrative structures.

He stated "In general, continuation of these trends will, I believe, result in a society more heterogeneous than it was in the 19th or any previous century, more aware of its heterogeneity, with stronger than ever tendencies to compartmentalization, with increased awareness of and interest in non-technological and non-economic factors affecting human life, and with a growing tendency to view the nation-state in a wholly new light, especially with reference to its ethnic components and its political and administrative units." (p. 389)

Now nearly 40 years later, it might be worth considering just how prescient Ned’s predictions were for the 1990s and for the 21st Century.

Was he right?  Partially right? Or, Did he miss the mark?

What are your thoughts?

Friday, September 16, 2011

How do we measure culture -- a layman's approach

Culture is a difficult concept even among anthropologists because we all have our own way of trying to define and describe it. Yet, there are certain features of the phenomena which are objective. And from an economist's or other social scientist's point of view, it can be measurable

Defining Culture 

1. Culture is a product of social/collective behavior.
2. Culture is the result of human activity that organizes the environment into meaningful units for the members of society.
3. Culture is a learned and shared set of meanings passed on from generation to generation (generation here can be biologically or socially defined).
4. Culture is the unifying force that binds generations and individuals together into social groups for collective purposeful action.
5. Culture has both a material and a metaphysical substance.

       a. The material is what is found in an archaeological site or simply observed in the material world in which people interact. 
       b. It is metaphysical in the sense that there is a unique set of purposeful meanings for carrying out and achieving the social goals that are shared and understood by the members of the social system.

Macro and Micro Cultural Measurement

      Culture can be measured on the macro scale in terms of energy use and efficiency to achieve culturally defined purposes. A culture can be compared to another culture if we are talking about the same purpose. For example: Using man hours and calories per person as the metric, two cultures might be compared in terms of the number of man hours required to produce a week's worth of food to insure that each person has the opportunity of obtain 1500 calories per day. 

       Culture is measured on the micro-level using the anthropological approach. This is done by looking at ALL of the human and societal activities that the culture demands to achieve the purpose -- not just money and labor but also government activity, social recruitment, organization and behavior to implement the activity and its management, religious sanctions and interpretations of the rightness of the activity, family and individual resources and commitments required to participate in the process. These activities are largely organized as traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. For example, how your mother puts together your favorite meal which she learned from her mother and she from her mother.

 Measuring Culture from the applied anthropologist's perspective

Over the past forty years I have been defining culture from the applied anthropological perspective.  These are the steps that I find work, if the client is serious about solving the problem. That is, by serious I mean that the client is prepare to pay for the service, and dedicate time and effort to solving it. 

When I have been asked to help solve a client's problem, I always begin by studying my client's current practices and their behaviors associated with "the problem". First, I observe and record what they are doing and watch to see where there is a problem or if the problem is really a problem and not just a symptom of something bigger.

Then I ask them " Why do you think this is a problem?" and "Why do you do what you  are doing?" That is, I ask them to explain what they are doing and why? I want to know what their meanings are for doing things that are creating their problem.

Once I understand that, I can then discuss what it is they think they are doing and what it is they want to do.
After this, and only after this, can we begin to look for metrics to measure what it is that they real want to do or achieve. 

Metrics are Cultural Phenomena

The metric is the cultural phenomenon -- it is how the client values the activity and its outcome. If I impose my own metric, it may become interesting to me and my colleagues, but be meaningless to the client.
Econometric models are interesting to economists and some policy makers and totally meaningless to the general public who are asked to respond to the results of the analysis. The results have to be translated into meaningful, i.e. culturally relevant, policies.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Anthropology and Consumer Resaerch -- An applied paradigm

Robert Tian, Business Anthropology, Anthropology of Business Blog, makes a good point about the technological overload that is emerging in the consumer research field. Data, tonnes of data, will be available and are available about consumer behavior. It is becoming available in real time to marketers and business strategists. But what does it mean? This is where the anthropologist, strategically positioned in the supply chain and in the corporation, has an advantage. The gathering of market data is the same as international espionage and we all know how good that process works, especially when it is stove-piped.

Anthropology is more than participant observation. Go back to the Boasian protocol and you will see that a holistic, comparative, and historically/environmentally contextual approach to the data -- confirmed through participant observation is the heart of the anthropological analysis. We go through so many fads and linguistic games to be unique that nobody, least of all many of our colleagues, know what anthropology really is and what an anthropologically trained person can do.

An effective strategy for the business anthropologist is to become the data consolidator and interpreter for the business owner, or the client. While David describes what can be collected, he did not explain how this can be used in anyway different from what is now being done, only more detail. Anthropology can provide another interpretive paradigm linked to the broader business context - such a market trends, disruptions and discontinuities. But this requires some new thinking within anthropology as well as within the business community. Maybe this more than most would be willing to attempt.

The easy escape for the anthropologist interested in consumer behavior is to try to retreat to the academy or museum -- the ancestral nurturing grounds of anthropologist -- and avoid the real world. However, like the sparrow fledgling popping out of our bird house this past June, you have to learn to spread your wings and take chances with the equipment you have been given and are trained in if you want to get over to the bird feeder with the big boys/girls..

As an applied anthropologist, in the consumer research field, It is what you can do for the client or employer that counts -- not the brand name "anthropology"  -- which counts. The paradigm is: 1. Do a good job selling your abilities to solve the client's or employer's problem; 2.Create value for them; and then, 3.. Sell the brand, Anthropology. This will give it meaning.

Right now accounting and law have created a proven brand and therefore command a premium price. Anthropology is still Indiana Jones and Bones, "rocks and bones." Today it only commands a generic researcher's price. Show the business world how it can use anthropological skills, profitably, and how to get value from all that data they are buying, then anthropology will become a brand. And the Consumer Anthropologist will command a premium price for his/her services.

Basic principle: Prove the product and give birth to a brand. Not the other way around.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why we need an Applied Anthropology - 2!

The real world of a global economy controlled by small "tribal" elites requires the study by those who have the broad anthropological perspective and the skills of participant observation. Case in point:

See the book Liquidation..

When the incentive system is out of synch with the superorganic (social and cultural) purpose of the activity that drives the system, then we get melt down or cancer. Crisis is the result of systemic conflict and mismatches. Anthropology teaches us that there is no institution, no tribe, no nation and no civilization that is NOT TOO BIG TO FAIL. Applied anthropologists have a lot to contribute to understanding this and the processes that affect it. Here is a good example of what anthropologists can do to address the problem.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How the American Anthropological Association got Ethics wrong

For more than 40 years (1970 - 2010), the American Anthropological Association has struggled with the question of professional ethics. In the early 1990s, the Executive Board of the AAA established a Commission to look into the question of professional ethics. "The AAA Executive Board charged the Commission to Review theAAA Statements on Ethics to examine the purposes, content and procedures of the Association Statements on Ethics." 

 To its credit the Commission outlined the problems that it found while the trying to address the problem. The Commission, in its report, lays out a set of "General Principles Applying to Codes of Ethics." These principles were, and are, however, critically flawed. And because they are, the Commission perpetuated the major flaw in the profession's thinking about ethics and especially professional ethics.

 To date anthropologists have failed to distinguish between what are “professional” ethics and what is "religious orthodoxy" or "disciplinary dogma." By “professional ethics” I mean, "What are the moral rules that apply to the unique role of being a professional anthropologist; that is, one who earns their living practicing the discipline of anthropology." By “religious orthodoxy,” I mean those claims to some divine, universal revelation of  what any anthropologically  trained individual is expected to do in all aspects of their personal and public life.

 Anthropologists have failed to apply their own disciplinary rules and principles to study this very cultural of phenomena; nor have they applied the results of such study to the problem's solution. It is by examining these General Principles and evaluating them in terms of anthropological and sociological principles that we can find the fatal flaw in the profession's reasoning as expressed by the Commission report.

In the analysis below the Commission's key principles are numbered and are presented in italics along with my comments in non-italic form on each major principle.

.III. General Principles Applying to Codes of Ethics
In reviewing the purpose and content of a Code of Ethics, the Commission profited from discussions with Bernard Gert, Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values, Dartmouth College. Professor Gert provided some general guidelines for developing a disciplinary and professional code of ethics. By way of background, the Commission lists some of those guidelines, some of which were drawn from "Morality, Moral Theory, and Applied and Professional Ethics," (Gert, Professional Ethics, Vol. 1, Nos. 1 & 2, 1992.) 

             1. The  primary  purpose(s) of a professional code of ethics is to help educate and socialize new entrants to the field as well as current members of the discipline; therefore, a code must be of some practical use.
 The primary purpose is not to educate new entrants, rather it is set the moral and ethical context/constraints that govern professional behavior of those who claim or are certified as professionals in the discipline. A code of ethics is a social contract and therefore is a statement of the collective beliefs of the membership and the standard by which members evaluate one another’s behavior and enforce a collective standard. Certainly neophyte require training and indoctrination -- but only if it is to be meaningful upon completion of  their initiation.

The primary purpose of a professional Code of Ethics is to present to the society, of which the profession is but a part, a clear statement of the purpose and mission of the profession as it applies to its relation to the community at large. 

        2.  A professional code deals with how a person ought to act, and with behaviors required by one's societal role/job. A code of ethics does not define a person's job or professional title (that is, a code of ethics does not define terms such as "scientist," "humanist," or "anthropologist ").
 This is a contradictory statement to say the least, and very poor social anthropology at its worst. If the code deals with “how a person ought to act” then it is describing an ideal “role.” That means, it is MUST, by definition, define a person’s professional role -- regardless of the job or professional status. “Ethics” is about behavior, not a structural position in a social network.
“Professional” is about status in the social network. It is a status, which comprises the membership of the practitioners trained in the body of skills and knowledge that make up the discipline. Thus, unless the Code does define what that  discipline is and who is included and who is excluded, it fails the test of being professional.

             3.  The development of a code of ethics assumes that the majority of persons affected by the code agree that there are shared ethical principles; that is,  "for the overwhelming majority of cases, any equally informed, impartial, rational person would come to the same conclusion " in determining a particular course of action 
 How does one determine what a majority is when there is no boundary established for inclusion and exclusion? Based on this definition, the population of the world is the universe. It would seem that the minority, anthropologists, do not constitute a majority to impose their standards on the world. Neither does it seem desirable that that be the case -- since the purpose of a professional code of ethics is to distinguish between what is “professionally” permissible behavior verses what is generally accepted  as permissible behavior. 

 For example, an ordinary citizen will violate the law and morality by using deadly force against another person (Thou shall not kill). He or she is acting immorally/unethically to do so. However, a police officer, as a professional law enforcer, is ethically bound to use such force in self defense AND THE DEFENSE OF THE PUBLIC.

The reason for distinguishing between general/universal ethics and professional ethics is specifically to identify specialized domains of activity (disciplines) which society deems worthy of or which require special identification, and exemption from the general ethical responsibility and accountability that applies to general population. If this were not the case there would be no need for a separate and exclusive professional code.

 4.  A code of ethics is a   "public moral system "  in that (1) all persons to whom it applies, those whose behavior is to be guided and judged by that system, understand it, i.e., know what behavior the system prohibits, requires and encourages; and (2) it is not irrational for any of them to accept being guided or judged by."
 I have no problem here because this assumption, or principle, addresses ethics in general. A personal, or even a public code of ethic, should be a public moral system which dictates how one behaves in public and toward others. However the phrase here is “all persons to whom it applies.“  A professional code does not apply to everyone -- it applies ONLY to those who are sanctioned by (1) the discipline, and (2) by the group that society sanctions to represent the discipline. 

 A public code of ethics is inclusive while a professional code of ethics is exclusive. As a citizen of the United States or the world, I am NOT bound by the AMA, nor the ABA, Codes of Ethics. However, I expect and demand that my doctor and my lawyer live up to their professional codes of ethics.

 5. "A public moral system " includes rules, which must be followed (unless a violation can be justified), and ideals, which encourage how people ought to behave.

 A “public moral system” consists of NORMS, not RULES as described here. NORMS are expectations of predictable behavior but not mandatory. RULES, as stated here, are LAWS which are mandatory and enforced by the society upon those over whom the society claims jurisdiction whether formally members of the society or not. “RULES” imply a formal process of enforcement, while NORMS only require an informal process. Breaking RULES carries consequences, breaking NORMS may carry shame or praise.

 As applied by the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology, the “public moral system,” which their Codes of Ethics claim to represent, is an “IDEAL” set of principles lacking any formal system or process of enforcement.

       6.  Moral rules are not absolute, but justified violations must be impartial (that is, every person may violate the rule in the same situation) and must be public (that is, everyone knows that the specific violation is permitted). It also is understood that there will be disagreement on what constitutes the "same situation."
 Moral rules are “culturally” absolute. Moral norms are not.  The allege violation is subject to question on two grounds. Was it a violation of a RULE or a NORM; and Did the circumstances of the alleged violation fall under the jurisdiction of the RULE?

 If the alleged violation was the violation of a norm, then it is a relative violation in the sense that there may be a general agreement that something inappropriate happened but under the circumstances “we”, the public, can accept and forgive that it happened. 

 Rules are by definition RULES which are absolute. The question of whether there is a violation is not whether the violation is justifiable, it is whether the RULE applies under the alleged circumstances under which the alleged violation took place. 
 These are two different tests of the application of the ethical code, public or professional. 

 General conclusion:  The rationale adopted by the Commission on Ethics reflects a decision made by a committee based on politics rather than a logical, "scientific" or "scholarly", assessment of the concept of ethics and its application to the discipline or profession. While the Commission raises a number of valid issues, the poor quality of their standards of reference lead it to produce a confused and loosely defined set of ethical and professional concepts. The final product fails to distinguish the differences between professional and public behavior. 

 As a result the Codes developed under these guidelines are over reaches their jurisdictional claims and otherwise hide the core ethical  issues facing the profession. It is not that the Commission ignored, or even avoided, the conflict that such poorly defined principles reveal. It is that they did not see that the principles applied were flawed. As result, where there were differences in interpretation, the decision seems to have been made to achieve consensus, rather than validity or clarity.
 Unfortunately, their recommendations appear to have been accepted by the AAA as guidelines for how and why the AAA is to construct its ethics code.  As they state it, "..., the Commission's recommendation that the AAA focus on an ethics education program and no longer seek to adjudicate claims of unethical behavior has been adopted by the AAA Executive Board."

Today, if this is the case, we wonder why the AAA continues to concern itself with developing a theoretical code of ethics that, while idealistic, is not applicable to the profession or professionals? And further, how helpful can this be to train students, especially the majority of who will be going to work in the real world, to respond to the ethical challenges they will face in that world?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why we need an Applied Anthropology

We live in a world which we know only as The World


click on the links below to learn more

It is a Beautiful World.

We share this World with millions of others people.

It is a complex world divided among people who speak many different languages.

It is a world shared people with many different culures.

It is a world of different faiths.

It is a world of uneven distribution of wealth and poverty

It is a world of perpetual conflict.

It is a dynamic world of perpetual change.

It is a fragile world that we almost destroyed at will during the post WWII Cold War

It is still happening. Do we want it to happen? 


How can we prevent this from happening???

We need to understand one another, our differences and our similarities. We need to be open minded and accepting if we are to survive as a species. 

Applied Anthropology, the application of scientific knowledge about how our species has survived and prospered, is a starting point to framing the real questions facing our species in this century.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The American Anthropological Association and Anthropological ethics?

Yesterday I opened my email and found the message about the American Anthropological Association's Final Draft Report of the Ethics Task Force. Having just finished a paper on Applied Ethics: Anthropology and Business I rushed to the site to see what was there. I managed to make note of this latest attempt to clarify the AAA's position and hopefully my editor will catch it. However, what I find most perplexing is that the AAA is playing the part of Lucy and I feel like Charlie Brown when it comes to trying to kick the ball

The American Anthropological Association has once again decided to look at "professional" ethics. This time it is a Draft Report from the Ethics Task Force which was released on June 30, 2011. While I know what a challenge this task is, I served from 1983 to 1986 on such a committee for the AAA and NAPA, it seems strange that only last February the AAA published a "new" revised and approved Code of Ethics.  What is going on here???
I want to commend the Task Force on its efforts.  I can empathize with the challenge they have been and will face going forward. However, my initial response and primary concern is that while the principles expounded here are an improvement over the 1970 Code and its offspring (1984, 1999, 2009, and the February 2011) they still miss the point. 

The topic headers make for a good start at a set of principles — stating what anthropology and the AAA stand for. However, since the AAA will not enforce the code and the COPE (Committee on Professional Ethics)' 2009 Annual Report has essential state as much, I wonder if the AAA has a need for a “Code.” .

In my experience, as an applied/practitioner, the value of a code of ethics is one of protection for the profession — protections against clients who would ask me to use my skills in an unethical way to further their objective; protection against colleagues competing against me by using unethical, inappropriate, or unprofessional practices; protection for the client and the public against the lack of a standard, reliable and valid way of knowing what is “anthropology” and who is qualified to practice as an anthropologist.
For more than a half century, the anthropological profession — as represented by the AAA — has seen ethics as being all about ME (the individual) — What can I do? What must I do? What can I get away with? 

I find that this ego-centric attitude (or should I say “anthropocentric”) fails to recognize that the AAA is a social institution which exists in a real world of human beings and social institutions who could care less about our personal fears, doubts, and biases. To the degree that they care, they want to be assured that there is some institution that will stand behind its members and guarantees the ethical quality of product it purports to represent .They are looking to the institution for quality control guidelines to reduce their risk of employing an unqualified member.

This is what a Code implies. It is a place to go to find the guarantee and to have that guarantee honored. It implies that the subject, the student, the colleague, the sponsor, and the client have recourse through the institution in the event of malpractice. Otherwise, the court system becomes the default.

If we drop the idea of a Code and simply follow the lead of the SfAA (Society for Applied Anthropology) that these will only be the principles that we expect members to follow, then we would be more honest in our presentation to the members and the public. 

The Principles can be stated in a 10 Commandment format without details and qualifications. " Thou shall or shall not." Since the AAA is not going to enforce them, there is little need to go into detail — that only invites more detail and a theological debate that goes nowhere. As principles, they are goals to aspire to and enforcement can done through rewarding outstanding examples of upholding the principles, rather than the time consuming and costly due process of punishment.
The AAA is NOT a professional society. Since the 1984 reorganization, it has become a consortium of clubs and voluntary associations. Unlike such professional association as the Bar Association, Medical Society, or American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, membership is voluntary and not required to practice the discipline in any of its manifestations (basic research, teaching, or practice) nor in any of the venues where anthropologists sell their service and making a living.

I feel that the Task Force should broaden the scope of its effort to consider the basic question — who and what is, or to be, served by an AAA code of ethics? 

Again, I want to commend the Task Force for it work. It is trying, challenging, and thankless job

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Applied Ethics -- Professional ethics for the Special Government Employee

Anthropologists have been arguing professional ethics since Boas published his letter to the Nation magazine on December 20, 1919, under the heading "Scientists as Spies,"  Some times this debate has been heated and other times quite ineffective. This is due in part because in their disagreements about what an anthropological ethic should be, they have been and continue to agree that whatever it is, it will be nonenforceable by the profession. But these principles might be enforced elsewhere. Why is that?  Because professional ethics are not absolutes, they are situational and relative. They are ethical systems developed to deal with the specific situations, rights and responsibilities that an individual acquires by virtue of his/her profession or job. This is what is called Applied Ethics.

Applied ethics is the branch of ethics that examines questions of moral right and wrong arising in specific areas of practical concern, as, for example, in medicine or business. So even if the AAA or SfAA or other professional  organization you belong to has an ethics code, you may find that you are covered by another applied ethics code because of a position, even if only temporarily.

During my career I have served as a reviewer of federal grant proposal as such I have been classified as a Special Government Employee and became subject to the specific applied ethics associated with that status.

 If you have the opportunity to serve such a role, check out the following video and learn what the ethical rules are to be a Special Government Employee.